2017Representation and reader feedback in the Jewish press

The unabated denouncement and vilification of Latvians for "supporting Nazism" every March 16th is, from the perspective of some, achieving the desired result as only roughly a third of Latvians still support observing Latvian Legion Commemoration Day. The news report we review below was largely objective, although describing participation by actual Latvian collaborators in the Holocaust as being far more widespread than it was. Even Ephraim Zuroff's perennial denouncement departs from his past wholesale indictments of the Latvian Legion.

What struck us about this particular story was its moderate tone versus the vitriol readers hurled at Latvia and Latvians in their comments. Our own response that the Legion was formed after the Holocaust, that none while in its service—regardless of Arājs Kommando collaborators being joined to the Legion late in the war—have ever been accused of a war crime, that the Latvian Legion veterans guarded the most notorious prisoners at the Nuremberg Trials,... has not been posted.

Originally published at World Israel News @ARCHIVE.ORG, highlighting and analysis follow

Latvian march 1honors former Nazis | March 19, 2017

[This photo, which was run with article, is from 2010. The oldest of those conscripted by the Nazis, born in 1906, would be 111 years old this year. The youngest, 18 in 1943, would be 92. Current commemorations prominently feature signs declaring "NO!" to both Hitler and Stalin.—Editor]

Only 270 years after the Holocaust, those who perpetrated it are honored in an annual street march.

Hundreds of people marched in Riga, the capital of Latvia, in honor of former 3Waffen SS members, who fought alongside Nazi Germany during World War II on Thursday.

The march was allowed by the Riga municipality despite protests. Several Latvian lawmakers were among the marchers.

The participants held Latvian, Lithuanian and Estonian flags. Aging war veterans led the procession to Riga’s Freedom Monument, where they laid flowers and sang traditional songs.

The veterans’ march has been harshly criticized by a number of international organizations, including the European Jewish Congress, as well as by governments worldwide.

4Many of the Latvian SS were directly involved in the extermination of Latvian Jewry during the Holocaust.

Every 16 March, veterans observe Latvian Legion Day. On 16 March 1944 both divisions of the Latvian Legion fought alongside the Soviet Red Army for the first time. It was the only battle in World War II led solely by Latvian commanders.

In 2015, Nazi hunter Efraim Zuroff of the Simon Wiesenthal Center called the march 5an attempt to hide the crimes of Nazi collaborators in Latvia.

Nearly 80,000 Jews, or 90 percent of Latvia’s prewar Jewish population, were killed between 1941 and 1942. 6Legionnaire supporters say that was before the Latvian Legion was created, but Zuroff said some of the legionnaires, “had actively participated in the mass murder of Jews before joining the Waffen SS.”

By: World Israel News Staff

Reader's Comments

Given the hate expressed in some of these, we have removed personal identification from all readers' comments, they are presented oldest to latest, as of 21 March 2017. Emphasis is ours.

  • ".. A referendum on European Union membership was held in Latvia on 20 September 2003. Latvia was the last of the states which would join the EU in 2004 to hold a referendum on the issue. Just over two-thirds of voters voted Yes and Latvia joined the EU on 1 May 2004."
  • .. latvia is another east block country among others that are slowly collapsing the EU.. countries worthy of no trusts..
  • Latvians and Lithuanians are all Nazis.
  • Israel should not have diplomatic relations with Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia.
  • Neither should the US...
  • I was present when David Harris, CEO of the American Jewish Committee, did his usual diplomatic cringing when the president of Latvia met with AJC senior staff. He sought to silence, indeed reprimand me, for my forthright reminder to the president of Latvia of that country's appalling history of Jew-hatred and murder from the period of the Russian Civil War to the wholesale collaboration of Latvians in the "Final Solution." Harris is a prototypical "leader" of an American-Jewish organization. Always eager to show off his "diplomatic skills" as he reveals himself to be the quintessential empty suit, a man of NO CONVICTIONS who happily does whatever it takes to hob-nob with heads of state, no matter how mendacious and morally compromised they are. He's also paid a king's ransom for his disgusting sniveling in front of people who loathe Jews.
  • At least they don't hide who they are, their wickedness. When they become the prey, let them pray.
  • I with you, better to know whats in their hearts, then guess
  • I hope the Latvian SS members are raped by Syrian immigrants
  • That is so sick ! Pathetic and an insult to the Victims of the Holocaust.
  • Look at the faces in the photo. Now, research photos of persecution of Jews in Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. The faces in those photos are interchangeable with those in the current photo.
    What these cretins seem to miss is that once the Jews were gone, they would be killed because the Nazis considered them
  • To moderator if you don't want to post what I have written please delete it . Happens ever so often. I don't mind. Buck 🇺🇸⚔🇺🇸 100% disabled Vietnam veteran Christian Right wing republican lifetime member NRA and friend to Israel
  • This is what happens when a nation that represents itself to be 80% Christian but only 7% of the population attends church. Latvia you are a disgrace. How do you look yourselves in the mirror? How do you say to your children you love them when you demonstrate such hatred by honoring Nazis? Have you forgotten the Nazis had no use for anyone that didn't meet their concept of a perfect 'Aryan'. The Jewish people may have been their first victims, but they also imprisoned and/or exterminated the elderly and those with disabilities. Nazis were a blight. My own father's family had the good sense to leave Germany when Hitler was rising to power...and you want to honor these people? Shame on you.
  • .. they went after the gypsies.. the roma. ..
  • Maybe they'll take in some "immigrants" and "refugees," like Sweden's doing....they deserve each other.
  • Shameful. How can evil people be so proud of themselves?
  • Faces that still express hatred...they just hate. miserable fxckers
  • These guys are slow learners. There was a recent article in The Economist relating how, in the city of Ponevezh, the shortage of skilled workers was damaging the city's - and the Lithuanian economy. Very easy to connect the dots. Why not allow a few hundred thousand Muslim immigrants into those countries to replace the murdered Jewish population? I don't think that experiment would end well. The Baltic states are the architects of their own misfortune, and I have no sympathy whatsoever for them.
  • As a Holocaust survivor from Poland, I can attest to the fact that Latvians, Lithuanians, and to a lesser extent, the Estonians, were the most savage, infinitely worse than the Germans. The Nazis brought this scum of Europe to do the dirty work for them to liquidate the ghettos of Poland. 7The Latvians and Lithuanians delighted in smashing babies heads against brick walls, holding the baby up by its legs in front of the insanely distraught mother...
    • The quote widely attributed to Jeckeln, who commanded the Holocaust in Latvia, that the Latvians et al. had more of an appetite for brutality than the Germans themselves, stories of German officers saving Jews from brutal Latvians, are false. Indeed, after the German invasion of Latvia, reports back to Berlin complained that the Latvians weren't responsive to attempts to incite hatred against the Jews. Yes, Arajs Kommando was the most notorious of Latvian collaborators, numbering some 300-500 during the Holocaust in Latvia. But please know that no Latvian seeks to honor Hitler's collaborators in their commemoration of the Legion. The Latvian Legion fought only against the re-invading Soviets in the hope to fend them off, then drive the Germans out, as the Latvians had after WWI in achieving independence.

Analysis

Contention versus Fact

The Latvian Waffen SS aka Latvian Legion were not Nazi party members, nor were they members of the convicted-at-Nuremberg criminal SS. In fact, Legionnaires were stationed as Allied guards entrusted with the most notorious of prisoners. To label any Latvians "Nazis" is completely false.

As in every other country the Nazis invaded, they found their sympathizers and anti-Semites willing to join in the eradication of Jewry. In Latvia, this was Viktors Arājs and Arājs Kommando, numbering 300-500 during the Holocaust in Latvia. These war criminals were not Waffen SS combat units, but were, instead subordinated to the Sicherheitsdienst. Those criminals are not the ones being commemorated.

That the Latvians fought alongside Germans—not in the same units—denotes only a common enemy. However, while the Germans were attacking the USSR, the Latvians were defending against it, having already been invaded and subjugated by the Soviets in what became known as "The Year of Horror." While Nazi propagandists used that term to their advantage, it does not diminish what Latvians know as "Baigais Gads." There was not a Latvian citizen whose family, relatives, or friends were not impacted by Stalin's mass deportations only a week before Hitler's attack—in which Jews suffered proportionally more than any other ethnic group at Stalin's hand. Jewish political, civic, and merchant society was beheaded, leaving Jewry ill-prepared to spread word or organize when the Holocaust arrived. By the time realization spread about what was going on it was already too late, as in personal stories of going to warn a close Jewish family friend only to find their decapitated body.

The Latvian Legion were solely Eastern Front combat units operationally subordinated to the German Wehrmacht, and swore no oath to Nazism.

This statement is false on two counts. First, no one in the service of the Latvian Waffen-SS has ever been accused or convicted of a war crime. Arājs Kommando, the most notorious Holocaust collaborating unit, numbering 300-500 during the Holocaust and responsible for 26,000 deaths, was joined to the Waffen-SS at the close of the war as the Eastern Front deterioriated. However, their war crimes have nothing to do with the Waffen-SS, formed only in 1943, and numbering some 57,000 at its peak.

More importantly, there was no "Latvian SS." No Latvian was a member of the Nazi party. No Latvian was in any position of authority over the Holocaust in Latvia. Even the aforementioned Arājs Kommando was supervised at all times, and given only non-automatic weapons which they had to hand at the end of the day or be shot. There was no such thing as "collaboration" with the Germans in the sense of shared or delegated responsibility or command. Every action was under German control at all times. German reports of spontaneous slaughter were propaganda intended to obfuscate the Germans' genocide. Nazi newsreels shown to the West purporting to portray armed Latvians in the streets actually showed Germans. (The Germans immediately disarmed the populace. Anyone found with a weapon was shot.)

The war crimes of Latvian participants in the Holocaust have never been denied, have never been covered up. From the perspective of Latvians, Latvian Legion Commemoration Day was observed quietly, reverently, with no controversy for decades until Russia began to denounce it as "Nazi glorification" and Russian apparatchiks invited Holocaust activists to Latvia to join in protesting against "resurgent fascism."

Zuroff speaks of "joining" as if it were a voluntary act. That the Germans put prior collaborators into the Legion as conditions deteriorated on the Eastern Front does not tarnish the motives or morals of those whose only purpose it was to resist the re-invading Red Army, nor does it make commemorating their sacrifice, even if ultimately in vain, a glorification or Nazism or a whitewashing of the Holocaust in Latvia.

Such widely repeated tales of Latvian barbarism owe their genesis to Nazi and Soviet propaganda, not fact. Accounts also include a Lithuanian perched on a pile of still-warm Jewish corpses playing folk songs. The noted Holocaust scholar Dr. Gertrude Schneider, for example, still quotes Soviet accounts of the Holocaust which facts have conclusively repudiated, viz. Dancing with the KGB and Sovietized Thesis following as part of our review of the INS deportation case against Vilis Hāzners.

We must ask, why is it that barbarism one could not imagine coming from the Germans—who industrialized human extermination—is so easily repeated as fact regarding Hitler's and Stalin's victims? That accusations Nazis created to mask their responsibility for mass genocide, that served the Soviets to subsequently denounce their most troublesome subjugated ethnic minorities as the true perpetrators of the Holocaust, are so readily believed and repeated as a given truth? Quoting Holocaust scholar Prof. Andrew Ezergailis:[1]

The “neighbors” killing “neighbors” stories have a number of common elements: for one they are presented as Germanless and leaderless (at least the leader is never named). The people bearing witness to the massacres are usually Germans or “survivors”, although not of the massacres in question. Though the Germans were zealous photographers, unfortunately only a few pictures have survived. Germans in these stories frequently are presented as sympathetic observers who may even intercede on the behalf of the Jews, clutching them out of the arms of the raging “natives”. The oddest aspect of these accounts is the purported primitive manner of killing. Modernity has passed by these “murderers”: they kill by bludgeoning the victims, even with blunt implements.

[1]Prof. Ezergailis' "Holocaust in Latvia," published by The Historical Institute of Latvia in association with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, is the definitive work on the Holocaust in Latvia.
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